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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: November ::
Jewish Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.2017  Thursday, 25 November 2004

[1]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Nov 2004 10:19:57 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.2009 Jewish Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Douglas Galbi <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Nov 2004 12:24:17 -0500
        Subj:   Shakespeare and Jewish writings

[3]     From:   John Reed <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Nov 2004 19:33:46 -0800
        Subj:   Re: Jewish Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Nov 2004 10:19:57 -0500
Subject: 15.2009 Jewish Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.2009 Jewish Shakespeare

Jack Heller refers to earlier accounts of citings of non Biblical Hebrew
and Judaic elements in Shakespeare's works, namely, that reported by
Florence Amit. Other persons on the list note the fact of the Bible
itself and of English translations of the Talmudic portion Avoth (Pirke
Avoth) that could have reached Shakespeare. But there are other Talmudic
and Judaic elements aside from these that are to be found in
Shakespeare's work. All this would indicate a depthful knowledge of
Judaic culture on the part of someone or something-Shakespeare's or that
of his associates or an intermediary literature unknown to us.

As an illustration of non Biblical or non Talmudic influences, but of
strictly Judaic elements, I would offer to this group a brief article on
the Tempest, one of Shakespeare's most mysterious and puzzling works.

My thesis on this list is that these reported influences should be
acknowledged and explored for the sake of eventually deepening our
understanding of the poet's work and of the man himself and his setting.
  This Shaksper list is to be applauded for enabling such
acknowledgement and exploration.

===============================
                     MYSTERIOUS TEMPEST
                       by David Basch
            ("winds of TEMPEST ... fulfilling His word")

One of the many striking Hebrew prayer poems, the "piyutim," recited on
the High Holidays repeats a recurrent biblical theme that the way of G-d
is "storm and tempest." This means, of course, that G-d uses the mighty
forces of nature to realize His wishes. It is a thought clearly
expressed in Psalm 148:8 as quoted in the heading above. This idea was
taken up by the great poet, William Shakespeare, in The Tempest, a play
that fully merits attention.

One of the many surprises in this play about sin, judgement, and
repentance, in which sinful people repent their deeds, is that it is
actually an allegory that enacts the period of the Jewish "days of
awe"-the ten days beginning with Rosh Hashonah and ending with Yom
Kippur. An analysis of the play's first act is sufficient to prove this
point. Here Judaic elements familiar to Jews who say traditional prayers
for this holiday emerge in the play with striking impact along with the
mighty tempest that lashes the ship in the first scene.

With the storm raging, the ship's "master" orders his first mate to get
on with the task of combating the winds. With ready obedience, the first
mate carries out the wishes of the ship's "master" and barks commands
and words of encouragement to the seamen in his charge:

      "Cheerly, cheerly, my hearts! yare, yare!"

In this spoken line is the first of the Judaic clues in the play.  The
word "yare," which is sailor talk for something like "briskly" or
"heartily," also has a significant meaning in Hebrew. It is a word
spoken in the midst of another famous tempest, the one which afflicted
Jonah the Prophet-a sinner fleeing from G-d. In Jonah 1:9, asked who he
was by the frightened seamen caught in that deadly storm, Jonah answers,
"I am a Hebrew, and it is G-d, the L-rd of the Heavens, I FEAR (a'ni
YA'RE)." The Book of Jonah is read on the afternoon of Yom Kippur, the
final day of "the days of awe."

"Ya're," as a biblical word, is most always used in connection with
being in awe, or in fear, of G-d. The word occurs in the Jewish daily
prayers and can be found, among other places, in Ecclesiastes 5:7 where
in exactly the same form it is understood as the imperative to "fear the
L-rd!" Hence the seaman's "yare" can be taken on some level as his call
to his fellows "to fear the L-rd"-to regard G-d's hand in the mighty
storm. That this is its significance is further demonstrated in what
follows.

As the action of the play continues, it is pointedly evident that it is
the ship's "master," the grand pilot of the vessel, who is in authority
on the ship. So when some of the noblemen passengers on board attempt to
interfere with the chain of the "master's" commands, they are soundly
scolded by the seaman who reminds the nobles that, whatever their royal
rank, it is the ship's "master" who is in charge. Shortly, the full
implication of this lesson in authority given in the play is drawn by
further events. At the impending disaster of the cracking of the ship,
there are heard the anguished cries of all directed not to any "master"
on board the ship but to Heaven, crying, "To prayers, to prayers."

The point is that, just as the command of the "master" of the ship
overrules the interference of the royal noblemen on board, overruling
even this ship's "master" is the Ultimate Master, a Higher Power that
truly guides the fate of the ship. It is to Him that prayers are now
directed. With the conclusion of this episode, it becomes evident that
Shakespeare has dramatized the image conjured in a "pi'yute," a Hebrew
prayer poem-one of the most famous-sung only on Yom Kippur of "the days
of awe":

      Like the helm in the hands of the pilot,
      Who at will holds it or sends it forth,
      So are we in your hand, O beneficent
                and forgiving G-d,...

      (key hee'ney ka'he'geh be'yad ha'maloch,
      ber'tzo'tho o'cheyz oo'ver'tzo'tho she'lach,
      kayn a'nach'nu be'yad'cha keyl tov ve'sa'lach,...)

That it is in fact "heavenly judgement" that is at hand for those aboard
ship is further suggested by a number of dramatic sequences, culminating
with the one toward the end of the scene on the ship: The situation
being desperate, Gonzalo, a kindly squire to one of the noblemen, sees
salvation in the image of a grim jest. Noting the gross disrespect of
the ship's seaman toward the royal passengers-an insubordination that
could, on land, be punishable by death-Gonzalo notes that the rebellious
nature of this seaman must set a "hanging mark" on him, a "dry" destiny
for the gallows. Hence, Gonzalo quips that this seaman's fate cannot be
to drown at sea, as then appears likely, but sees in this rebel's proper
fate "a cable for deliverance" to all on board. "If he be not born to be
hanged, our case is miserable," cries Gonzalo against the storm.

This talk of destiny is a clear link to the image of the "days of awe,"
which is the time when each man's destiny is determined. In an awesome
prayer ("Ne'sa'neh To'kef") recited on each of the Holy Days of this
period, the scene is evoked of mankind passing before the L-rd in
judgement, like sheep passing under the shepherd's rod. As the synagogue
prayer is intoned, the permutations of man's destiny are reviewed: who
it will be that will die that year and by what means, among which, "Who
by drowning? Who by hanging?"-the alternative destinies actually posed
by Gonzollo for the rebellious seaman on Shakespeare's ship.
Interestingly, in a later scene in THE TEMPEST, there is a part that
actually reenacts the Jewish heavenly scene of judgement described in
the Hebrew prayer, as all the play's characters are lined up for
judgement by Prospero, who in the allegory of the play actually
personifies The L-rd.

In sum, we find that in Shakespeare's opening scene, barely 67 lines in
length, with masterful economy of action and words, the Poet has
introduced the major themes of his play using the symbolism of "the days
of awe." As the allegory of the play runs to completeness, we learn the
Poet's profound conception of the nature of sin and repentance and how
central and deep is the Jewish imagery in the telling of this story.
Shakespeare ends his play with a message of worldwide significance, a
message whose meaning had awaited the uncovering of its Judaic
interpretive key.
                           *******
    ______________________________________________________________

           The above is an adaptation of part of a chapter from
         SHAKESPEARE'S JUDAICA AND DEVICES by David Basch
    ______________________________________________________________

    Also for your information is the following announcement of
           David Basch's recently published book (2000)
          THE SHAKESPEARE CODES: THE SONNETS DECIPHERED
             ( http://www.ziplink.net/~entropy )
           ( http://www.ziplink.net/~entropy/codes.htm )

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Douglas Galbi <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Nov 2004 12:24:17 -0500
Subject:        Shakespeare and Jewish writings

 >of course, the chance that Shakespeare ever saw, could have read,
 >or had the training to interpret Talmud is absolutely zero.

The probability is higher than that.  In the sixteenth century,
Christian Hebraists enthusiastically studied Jewish texts.  As James
Kugel has noted:

<quote>Typical of this spirit is Sebastian Munster's preface to his
popular edition of the Hebrew Bible, [Arba`ah ve-`e?srim] vel Hebraica
Biblia (1534-55), which contains a section entitled "The Commentaries of
the Jews are Not to be Condemned."  In it he defends the use of the
whole corpus of Jewish writings (adducing Jerome as his model and
precedent) -- targum, Talmud, and, besides the well-known commentary of
Rabbi Solomon (Rashi), other works of medieval Jewish exegesis, written
by "the many outstanding Rabbis whom the Jews had in Spain, Africa, and
other regions."  To be sure, Jewish writings contained potential
pitfalls, and had to be approached with caution; still, they were an
invaluable, and un-ignorable, source of information: "Let neither the
reading nor the interpretation of the Rabbis go counter to you, O
Christian reader, if you have learned Christ purely; for He will come
forth, whether they agree with us or disagree."  And as any student of
Christian Hebraists knows, Munster's is both an outstanding Christian
compendium of Jewish learning and yet hardly unique in its views. <end
quote>

(see James L. Kugel, "The Bible in the University," in Propp, W.;
Halpern, B. and Freedman, D.(eds.)The Hebrew Bible and Its Interpreters,
p. 143-66., Eisenbrauns, 1990.)

Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, in her recent book (in German), William
Shakespeare (Mainz: 2003) suggests that WS studied at the Jesuit College
at Douai from 1578-1580. Perhaps there he studied the writings of the
Rabbis.

This information should not be considered to have any implications for
contemporary scholarly concerns about whether Shakespeare was Jewish
(passed as a converso?), Anglican (national poet of England!), Puritan
(bawdiness displaced), Catholic (but pro-choice?), Gnostic (Shakespeare
was an intellectual!), or transgodified (see my forthcoming article in
Cult(u)[ral] Studies).

Douglas Galbi

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Reed <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Nov 2004 19:33:46 -0800
Subject:        Re: Jewish Shakespeare

I have stumbled upon a passage in a work of Bible commentary that might
bear upon the issue we are discussing here.  It is in the Sacra Pagina
series, Romans, by Brendan Byrne.  He writes (p. 108) , "Paul had there
maintained that the "real Jew" is the one God recognizes to be such -
not on the basis of physical circumcision but on the basis of a
"circumcision of the heart" that entails a true keeping of the law which
even a Gentile might attain.  This naturally calls into question any
advantage of being a Jew in the ordinary (ethnic) sense or of bearing
Judaism's special badge: physical circumcision.  As in 2:25-29,
circumcision and "being a Jew" go together; the "value" (_opheleia_) of
circumcision is not pursued as a separate issue."

 From this it is unequivocally demonstrated that Shakespeare was Jewish,
Paul was Jewish, and Ophelia is Jewish (although Shakespeare misspelled
her name).  I use the present tense indicating of course general time,
since Ophelia, being a character in a play, is still with us in a
certain sense.  The additional implication that Polonius is Jewish is a
serious accusation, and I would hate to pass judgment on that until all
the facts are in.

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